The reality of salad

I don’t have very much time to write blog posts, and when I do, I tend to write about my Great British Bake-Off challenge. I love to bake; the challenge is, on the whole, fun; it’s what I do. But there is another reality, and that is, simply, that I am on a diet.

It is not a particularly fun thing to admit to (though it is much more unpleasant to do!). The reasons are primarily aesthetic – I want to feel happy about myself rather than out of control and ashamed, I want to fit into my nice clothes – but I have also been concerned about the way my body carries fat as I enter my late twenties: it’s undeniable that more of my excess weight is being carried around the waist and stomach, and belly fat is the clearest indicator of type 2 diabetes risk. I know people with diabetes and seeing their difficulties managing this very serious disease has made me want to mitigate my risks.

I have been dieting in the most old-fashioned way, simply calorie counting (using Myfitnesspal to keep track). I find it tedious and was very hungry and unhappy in the first week. But as with many things, it’s about adjustment. I can eat more low-sugar muesli than I could eat a muffin for a lower calorie count, so I eat the former. I can eat almost as many leafy vegetables as I want, until I’m full, for a low calorie count. The adjustments are both in the types of food eaten – endive salad instead of potatoes, fruit and veg instead of heavy carbs – and also, simply, in eating less. I’ve cut down my portions, reduced the sweeteners in my tea, and stopped nibbling on biscuits and cake. While it’s still a process, I am gradually learning to balance my calorie load throughout the day. Last week I attended a friend’s birthday party and ate a huge, delicious slice of the Hummgbird Bakery’s divinely moist red velvet cake, slathered in rich, voluptuous cream cheese frosting – and managed to stay within my calorie limit. Best of all, my slice of cake wasn’t associated with the feelings of guilt and greed that consuming sweets previously had for me – I shouldn’t, but I want it, I’ll get fatter, who cares I’m fat anyway, I might as well eat two slices. I felt in control of the process of eating and enjoyment.

Vibrant, colourful salad, perfect for summer - recipe below!
Vibrant, colourful salad, perfect for summer – recipe below!

I’m aware that there may be more setbacks further along the way, and am not complacent about the difficulties of coping with hunger (I did adjust to smaller portions and now feel full on less food, much to my surprise), especially as it’s early days yet, but I am certainly lighter – my scale says so – and I look noticeably slimmer than when I started. This has made me happy – as happy as baking, and eating, a slice of cake.

In case you were wondering – I am still eating my own baked goods (just fitting them into my overall diet). But I am also discovering lighter ways of cooking. It turns out that half a teaspoon of oil is perfectly adequate to cook chicken breasts; that half a tablespoon is enough for oven chips for four. And it turns out that you can make a salad which is robustly flavoured, with different tastes and textures, that also fills you up – without grains or pasta or chorizo (though I’m sure all would be great additions!).

I invented this salad in a sort of desperate hunger when prowling around Sainsbury’s after work, anxious to find anything that would prevent me from caving in and agreeing to my boyfriend’s suggestion of takeaway fish and chips, usually a Friday staple (he ate the salad with me, in the end!), and I’ve made it several times since because it is easy to put together, bright and punchy, and can easily be dressed up if eating with a non-dieting partner or friend (suggestions below). This salad is also pretty to look at, very colourful, and looks substantive, and I firmly believe that this psychology makes a big difference in how interesting it is to eat, as a dieter. With some peppery leaves brightened up by lemon juice (and no oil), it wakes up the senses. It’s great if you’re enjoying a meat-free Monday, but I have also eaten it alongside chicken breast and white fish after a gym session, when I want to increase my protein intake.

Vibrant summer salad
Recipe serves two

  • 80g (approx) salad leaves. I use a salad mix from Sainsbury’s called Sweet Crimson Basil, which includes, yes, basil, but also edible flowers and looks and tastes sprightly and pretty. If you can’t get hold of this, I suggest a mix which is slightly peppery and has some bite, maybe with watercress or rocket.
  • 150g sweet baby peppers
  • 100g fine asparagus
  • 1/2 tsp olive oil
  • 2 TBS lemon juice
  • 60g low fat cheese, crumbled, torn, or finely chopped (optional) – I’ve used both lighter mozzarella and salad cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 200C. Place the whole baby peppers on a baking tray (you dpon’t need oil). Bake for 20 minutes or so, until they are softening and their skins just starting to blacken.
  2. Trim the ends of the baby asparagus and rub with the half teaspoon of olive oil. Add to the tray of peppers and roast for an additional ten minutes.
  3. Let cool slightly until you can handle the roast peppers. Remove the stems and cut the peppers into strips – I cut them into about six ribbons per pepper but this may depend on their size.
  4. Combine the salad leaves, pepper strips and asparagus. Toss the lemon juice through the salad.
  5. Add the cheese and toss to combine.
  6. Divide the salad over two plates. It is undeniably a light meal and, if unaccompanied by anything else, I would suggest it for lunch rather than dinner. But I have eaten it for dinner, as noted above, and it has filled me up.

Calories: about 110 per serving, without cheese. 30g of low fat cheese might add around 50 calories extra. The first time I made this I used only 15g.

For sharing with your non-dieting partner or friend: I split the salad leaves, asparagus and pepper strips over two plates or bowls. I add 1 TBS of lemon juice to my plate. For my boyfriend, I then make a traditional olive oil and lemon juice dressing (usually 3-4 parts oil to 1 of acid – lemon in this case) and pour it over his plate. I portion out 30g of the low fat cheese onto my plate and add as much as looks generous and delicious onto his. You could always throw in some chicken and/or pitta bread for them, too (my boyfriend is quite a light eater and he was happy with the salad on its own the first time I made it).

 

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